The Fiat X 1/9 was a compact two-seater “Targa” mid-engine, created to replace the Fiat 850 Spider. It soon became a success, especially in America, as a result of the skilful inclusion of solutions focused on safety in a two-seater with typical Italian sportiness and design.
In the late ’60s, vehicle safety became an essential factor from the design stage onwards: the experience gained by Fiat, if not so much and not only with the experimental vehicles from the ESV programme, drove the designers towards safer choices, including for open-top cars. The demand for open-air driving with improved safety features could be seen all over the world, but most of all in the States.
In the same years, Marcello Gandini – an expert designer from the Bertone coachbuilder whose creations included the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Lancia Stratos – produced the prototype of a compact two-seater spider with a mid/rear Fiat engine, fitted with an anti-roll bar.
The glorious Fiat 850 Spider needed to be replaced by a more powerful car and Bertone’s prototype served as an excellent starting point. To provide sufficient performance, the decision was made to adopt the outstanding engine from the Fiat 128 Rally, a 1300-cc model that could deliver 75 hp. Despite the differences in the architecture, many other components of the Fiat 128 – including four disc brakes and four independent suspensions – were used to create the compact Targa, known as Project X 1/9, an in-house codename that became its definitive moniker.
The Fiat X 1/9, once again designed by Gandini, featured the original wedge shape in the front, connected to the compact passenger compartment, followed by a third volume that ended in a “Kammback”. The highlights were the retractable headlights and bumper, divided in two by two rubber blocks, leaving the central section open. The low grille followed the upper slope in the opposite direction, with a large body-colour spoiler under the water radiator air intake. Finally, the boot was shaped to accommodate the removable hard roof and battery.
The compact passenger compartment only provided space for two sports seats with built-in headrests. The dashboard was divided into rectangles: from the air vents to the dashboard with its circular instruments, whereas the central console included the classic Fiat switches and vertical sliders for the fan and heating. Beyond the passenger compartment, behind the driver and passenger seats, in order there were: a small rear window in the middle of the anti-roll bar, above the vertical placement of the fuel tank and spare wheel; the engine in a transverse position, connected to the four-speed gearbox aligned with the wheels; another boot to finish off the horizontal aspect of the third volume, as well as the mechanics. Like in the front, the bumper was divided in two, ending in rubber blocks at the same level as the number plate.
The car was unveiled to the trade press in November 1972. The ideal location to present such an original and sporty car was the Madonie circuit, the historic Targa Florio track along the meandering sunlit roads of Sicily. The Fiat X 1/9 was received positively, for both its aesthetics and the originality of the streamlined wedge-shaped bodywork, and for the balance between the chassis and outstanding performance. At the press conference to unveil the car, the engineer Luigi Zandonà from the Automotive Experiences Department noted the extent to which the Fiat X 1/9 was a nod to the international market, especially in the US. His forecasts would be fully vindicated in the coming years.